Segal: Of primates and parents
Although I’m sad about the death of the Cincinnati Zoo’s beloved silverback Harambe, I am grateful for the whole episode because of how much better it made me feel about myself. After the child fell into the gorilla habitat, social media erupted in a frenzy of blaming the mom. How gratifying it is to join in the self-righteous chorus: Where was the mom? Who was watching the kid? What kind of negligent parenting is this? They should have shot the mom, not the ape! Personal responsibility!
How easy it is to proclaim that I would never let something like that happen on my watch. That’s how heroic a parent I am. No accidents while I’m in charge! I have eyes not just in the back but on all sides of my head — superhuman.
True, there was that one time when my son was 3 months old and we carried his stroller up some stairs but we had neglected to strap him in and he slid out and fell onto the stairs and hit his head. We spent the night in the ER, and yes, he had cracked his skull, but no one had to shoot an endangered species. (Side note: He’s fine. Additional side note: As he fell from the stroller, in that moment of paternal terror and helplessness, I yelled, “Jesus Christ!” This primal outburst continues to raise questions for me as a rabbi.)
The point is, I’m a great parent, and blaming the Cincinnati Zoo mom shows the world how great I am at parenting. If I had been there, that kid wouldn’t have fallen into the enclosure. And if he had, I would have jumped in there and wrestled him free from that preening primate. I read Curious George almost nightly, so I think I know a thing or two about handling a mischievous monkey. Give him a banana with one hand, grab the kid with the other. It can’t be that hard. Someone should give those trigger-happy zookeepers a clue. Guns aren’t the answer. (Unless you’re talking about gun violence, in which case guns are the answer. Now that I think about it, given the relative outrage expressed at Harambe’s death as compared with last week’s UCLA shooting — as you read this, do you even know the name of the professor who was killed? — if there were zoo shootings every week instead of school shootings, we’d have sensible gun control by now.)
But back to me and my stellar parenting. Unlike this zoo mom, I’m never distracted, always on guard. To be fair, there was that other time when my 4-year-old son was pulling my 18-month-old daughter around on a toy truck in the house and turned so fast that the toddler was thrown off the truck and she hit her head on the hardwood floor and passed out. I was doing dishes in the kitchen, and I must have looked away from the kids for a split second. Yes, my daughter was dazed for a few hours, and her day care professionals were on concussion watch the rest of the day, but no great apes were harmed. (Side note: She’s fine. Additional side note: My son’s truck license has been suspended.)
But aside from the stroller incident and the truck incident and the almost daily head bonks and skinned knees and pinched fingers — I am 110 percent hawk-eye missile-locked on my kids. It’s a good thing because that’s what it takes, apparently, to be considered a decent parent.
Most of you aren’t lucky enough to be endowed with mutant parenting powers, like me and all the X-Men (and X-Moms) of the internet comment universe. At the very least, the superpower you should try to get is an abnormally thick skin, because my super squad of parent-shamers and I are coming for you. And we are as relentless as a 400-pound gorilla.
Rabbi David Segal of the Aspen Jewish Congregation can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-925-8245. His column runs the first Sunday of the month.
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